‘Rentals are more of a priority than ever now,’ says Jonathan Gray of Beauchamp Estates on the Côte d’Azur. ‘Standards have been upped, and the properties that rent best will be those that are almost more comfortable than a five-star hotel, and come with the “whole package”.’ This means providing internet access, satellite TV, airconditioning and a heated pool, but also can encompass concierge services such as an in-house chef, babysitting, restaurant and car-rental booking.

But how can you ensure you stand head and shoulders above the competition? First, to bring your home to as many people’s attention as possible, you need to market it through the best holiday-homes websites. These are cheaper than using a lettings agency—although you may wish to do that as well—and for £200 a year, they’ll supply the tools for you to self-manage rentals (online availability calendar, booking contract templates, and so on) plus space to advertise your property.

For example, www.holiday-rentals.co.uk, one of the UK’s most successful sites, lists 22,000 properties, but because it shares content with US, German and French sister sites, a total of 130,000 properties can be searched by a truly international audience.

You can also provide a link to your own website, which should be professional and easy to find. It’s worth investing in some expertise to ensure your website isn’t just user-friendly, but also search-engine optimised.

This means, by careful selection of content—your domain name, page headers and key-word density—your website will appear higher up when internet searches are made by prospective customers. Having too many graphics, Flash or Java actually works against search engines finding your website, as does failing to update your site.

When advertising your property, it’s very important to offer your guests ‘a lifestyle experience rather than merely accommodation’, says Kate Stinchcombe of another popular rental site, www.holidaylettings.co.uk. This means creating USPs such as a help-yourself wine cellar, a dedicated playroom or games room if you’re targeting families, a private mini-gym, or a grocery stocking service prior to arrival. ‘Consider providing bikes [and helmets] at the property, a mountain guide or other local expert for a day, arranging discounts for guests at the local water-sports shop, stables or restaurant, or sorting out fishing licences for the week.’

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It’s also good form to have someone local to meet and greet guests, on top of dealing with problems and changeovers. You might use an on-site estate manager —or caretaker—but if you want to save yourself the hassle of both dealing with bookings and managing the property, a good rentals agency is key. For high-end agencies such as Beauchamp’s, management fees are 20%–25%, but this includes concierge services Mr Gray refers to, as well as caretaking (www.beauchamp.com). That said, one of their most popular requests— a villa with 4–5 en-suite bedrooms in the Gordes and Lacoste areas of the pays arrieres— brings in €7,000–€10,000 a week.

Claudia Voss of Studio Montagliari in Tuscany (www.toskana.it) suggests owners might be proactive about making late-availability offers if they depend on renting their property out. ‘In the current climate of uncertainty, we’re expecting many bookings to be relatively last-minute,’ she says. She recommends advertising your property with more than one agency, and adds that a traditional farmhouse that sleeps 10 is the most requested type of property. ‘Perfect for two families, it will command €4,000–€6,000 a week if it has privacy, panoramic views and plenty of outdoor dining space.’

If you do fancy something a little more hands-on, running an agroturismo—B&Bs that serve locally produced food—can earn a generous income. Edward Mayhew, a property developer from Fulham, west London, has earned £250,000 a year doing this from his converted farmhouse in the Florentine hills, in addition to hosting weddings, which generate about £10,000 each.

His son Rupert and a local housekeeper help him run the business, which uses home-grown plums, figs and cherries from his kitchen garden.

In the 10 years since he’s had his Italian bolthole, Mr Mayhew has nurtured 200 olive trees into producing 100 litres of oil a year, which he bottles and gives to the wedding parties as gifts. ‘We run the olive harvest rather like a family shoot, and get everyone involved—it’s great fun,’ says the 71 year old, whose guests are mainly British or American.

‘But you need to be a relaxed sort of person who can get on well with anyone to do this. We use the business to finance our lifestyle rather than it being a year-round occupation.’ However, with the upkeep proving a little too onerous, he’s reluctantly decided to sell the property, which has six bedrooms and five bathrooms in the main house, as well as four self-contained cottages and a swimming pool in 10 acres. It’s for sale at €2.95 million through Aylesford (020–7351 2383; www.aylesford.com). One creative Italian developer has come up with the idea of offering not just the lifestyle that comes with his traditional-style farmhouses, but a healthy, organic one.

Francesco Carlucci of Landscape Properties (www.dreamhomesinpuglia.com) says that owners will have access to the quality of produce that money simply can’t buy—even in Italy. Farmers in the fertile Puglia region, known as the breadbasket of Italy, who would normally keep the best produce for themselves and their families, will ‘rent’ the land from the owners’ masseria—each comes with 3½–10 acres.
Owners and their guests will be supplied with 25 different products—quantities varying with season and climate —including wine, vegetables, olives, fruit, pasta and olive oil. ‘Owners will get produce from the whole consortium of farmers, not just what’s grown on their plot,’ says Sr Carlucci.

‘So, although grain isn’t produced in Puglia, it is in Basilicata [where he also builds homes], so everyone will get homemade fresh pasta.They will be able to live off the produce, even if they only spend a month at their home, as we’ll send produce to the UK so they don’t miss out.’ Landscape’s bespoke stone-carved masseria cost from €750,000 to €2 million (3-6 bedrooms).

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